Amid unsettling economic news as a result of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the Humboldt County School District Board of Trustees received good news — the district’s ending fund balance for 2019-2020 presents a small cushion for the lean year to come. 

“The good news is that our augmented budget ... represents an increase in our total funds which is going to allow us to carry a greater ending fund balance,” Humboldt County District Superintendent Dr. Dave Jensen said, adding the increase will “help us  as we navigate what should be an interesting year or two in the state of Nevada.”

The trustees approved the augmented budget at the June 23 meeting. 

At the end of every fiscal year, the district must “true up” or adjust the district’s financial books to reflect what was received in revenues and what were actual expenditures. The district’s fiscal year ended June 30. 

Jensen said the district had a couple of funding sources that went up including Net Proceeds of Minerals (NPM) and property taxes.  The total revised revenue for property tax is $6,894,224 and the revised figures for NPM is $3,954,396.

The district’s expenses were also augmented to reflect that no students were physically present during the last three months of school because Governor Steve Sisolak ordered schools to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jensen said unexpended dollars include meal services since students were not served meals in cafeterias or school rooms but continued meal service by other alternative methods.

Jensen said the district’s ending fund balance stands at $6.5 million, which he said the district is grateful for. “The positive is that net proceeds came in higher, our ending fund balance is going to be higher and we’re going to be able to make adjustments with some unexpended dollars,” Jensen said.

This good news comes in the midst of the state dealing with a massive budget shortfall. Tax revenue from gambling, hospitality and live events, which supports most of the state’s budget, crashed after the pandemic shuttered businesses and slowed tourism. On June 12, the Legislature’s finance committee approved a plan that projected a $265.3 million shortfall in the account for education.

These figures arrived on the heels of a year in which many viewed as a triumphant finish to the 2019 legislative session — when lawmakers dedicated $2.3 billion for schools, adding $327 million to reduce class sizes, allocating $72 million to boost teacher pay and spending more than $100 million on reading and safety initiatives.

It also follows a report presented last month to state lawmakers showing Nevada ranked 44th out of 50 states in the U.S. for per-pupil spending. The report said K-12 student achievement was improving at the seventh fastest rate of any state in the country, but still ranked 43rd in current achievement scores.

Humboldt County school district, like others across the US, face an increase in cost associated with educating children during the coronavirus pandemic. How students will return to school and what education will look like — virtual learning, a return to the classroom, or some combination of the two — has yet to be determined. But whatever the model will be, returning to school will come with an increased cost to keep things clean and disinfected and to provide the necessary tools for virtual learning.

Jensen is confident the district can manage the challenges. The ending fund balance is “going to give us a little bit of a cushion as we walk into this upcoming year, given the unknowns,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we can completely relax because we don’t know deep the budget reductions are, but we’re confident we’ll be able to survive this upcoming year with minimal impacts.”